• Nigerians appraise FG on economy, security, power, others
They mounted the saddle chanting the mantra of change. And massive hopes were raised that the nation would immediately start experiencing a genuine breath of fresh air.
At the inauguration of the Muhammadu Buhari administration on May 29, 2015, expectations were high that the lives of Nigerians would start witnessing diametric transformation on all fronts.
Three years on, certain hopes have been dashed, while some souls have been lifted. Hearts have been broken, just as some insist that it has not been a totally melancholic ride. While some Nigerians have given the government a pass mark in certain areas, some assert that the administration has not performed satisfactorily in other spheres. Many Nigerians are also offering words of advice to the government on how life could get better for the people.
If there is any area that has earned the government considerable knocks, it is the security situation in the country.
Indeed, in the past few years, only few would argue that the security situation in many parts of the country has become absolutely worrisome. The activities of murderous gangs of Fulani herdsmen have turned many North Central and North East states into killing zones. Tears cascade down the cheeks of many in states like Benue, Plateau, Zamfara and Taraba, as killer herders invade communities, spreading death and distress. Many have accused the federal government of being apathetic towards the criminal tendencies of herdsmen bearing assault rifles and other weapons of terror
The administration noted, however, that it had not just been sitting idly by. Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, said the activities of the Boko Haram insurgents have been successfully curtailed in the North East, for instance. In his words, a number of hitherto closed roads have been opened, while residents have returned to abandoned communities. Over a million displaced persons, including traditional rulers, have also returned home, he said.
Ahmed Yusuf, publisher of an online magazine in Maiduguri, did not disagree: “The Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), aimed at combating trans-border crime and the Boko Haram insurgency, has been revitalised. Public secondary schools resumed in Borno State after two years of closure, and Boko Haram’s operational and spiritual headquarters, ‘Camp Zero,’ in Sambisa Forest was conquered. Also, Arik Air has resumed flights to Maiduguri, three years after suspending operations to the city.”
There have been praises for the government also for rescuing over 13,000 victims of Boko Haram, just as 106 of the Chibok schoolgirls, abducted in April 2014, and 105 of the Dapchi girls, abducted in February 2018, were released.
But there have been calls on government to do more. For instance, killings by suspected Fulani groups have not abated in the North East, and more kidnappers are taking over the highways, from Abuja to Aramoko in Ekiti State.
One major promise of the Buhari administration was to build a virile economy and create jobs. Shortly after Buhari mounted the saddle, the nation slipped into recession, inevitably fuelled by a monumental drop in the prices of crude oil, the nation’s mainstay. Then the economy started floundering, wreaking inflation, loss of jobs, and a rise in the prices of virtually all goods upon the nation.
The nation has since exited recession, but prices of goods and consumables have remained high.
Some light seems to be visible at the end of the tunnel, though. Officials of the government recently informed the nation that the economy was back on the path of growth, after the recession, recording a 1.95 per cent growth in the first quarter of 2018. And besides the consistent growth being recorded in the agriculture and solid minerals sectors, inflation has continued to fall for the 15th consecutive month, it was learnt. The country’s external reserves have also grown to US$47.5 billion, the highest in five years.
There are also considerable growths in agriculture exports, raw material exports, solid minerals exports and in exports of manufactured goods, it was gathered.
Asserting that the economy has indeed been on a steady growth, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, said: “The new FX window introduced by the CBN in April 2017 now sees an average of US$1 billion in weekly turnover, and has attracted about US$25 billion in inflows in its first year (and a total turnover of $47.14 billion) – signalling rising investor confidence in Nigeria. Nigeria’s stock market ended 2017 as one of the best-performing in the world, with returns in excess of 40 per cent. Five million new taxpayers have been added to the tax base since 2016, as part of efforts to diversify government revenues.
“Also, tax revenue increased to N1.17 trillion in the first quarter of 2018, a 51 per cent increase on the first quarter of 2017 figure. N2.7 trillion was also spent on infrastructure in the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years, an unprecedented allocation in Nigeria’s recent history. The government has also revitalised 14 moribund blending plants so far under the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI); with a total capacity of 2.3 million MT of NPK fertilizer. And the contribution of Solid Minerals’ to the federation account rose five-fold from N700 million in 2015 to N3.5 billion in 2017.”
In spite of the growth in the economy, many people are confused that the purchasing power of the people has not really improved.
“The good thing is, we have exited recession, and the economy is slowly growing again, though the growth is not at a phenomenal rate. But the people seem not to be benefitting from the various governmental interventions yet. It is a long process, but government must do more to create wealth and fight poverty,” a public affairs analyst, Martin Bello, said in an opinion article.
Also expressing concern that the purchasing power of the common man has not been too encouraging was another commentator, Petra Edozie.
“To be realistic, the economy is far better than it was by this time in 2016 and 2017. The concern is that the efforts of the government have been slow in yielding the desired results,” she said.
In truth, the federal government had initiated certain processes to steer the economy back on track. Outstanding pension arrears were cleared, while state governments had received close to N2 trillion as bailout to enable them pay workers’ salaries and pensions.
Renowned economist, Ayo Teriba, has a piece of advice for the federal government. He said the Buhari administration must build external reserves buffer, which would protect the nation from the uncertainties of the crude oil market. He told a national newspaper that the federal government should follow the Saudi Arabia model, which, he said, had been opening up a number of other sectors of its economy to attract $200 billion in foreign direct investment.
“When oil price fell, Saudi Arabia had more than enough reserves to absorb the shock. So, if Nigeria too had adequate foreign reserves, we would avoid all those upswings and downswings in key domestic economic variables. And the earlier Nigeria begins to build her foreign reserves, the sooner we would be able to free ourselves from that vulnerability to movements in the price of oil,” he said.
He admitted though that the economy was getting better. “The economy has continued to recover. Inflation has been coming down steadily for 15 consecutive months. Exchange rate has also been stable since February last year. It even appreciated in the parallel market and it has remained stable since June last year. The level of external reserves has continued to increase,” he noted in an interview.
It appears the government has not fared badly in the agriculture sector. Through the Anchor Borrowers Programme, the Central Bank of Nigeria says it has made available about N82 billion in funding to 350,000 farmers to grow rice, wheat, maize, cotton, cassava, poultry, soy beans and groundnuts, cultivating about 400,000 hectares of land. The success of the programme, it was gathered, has been most noticeable in the production of local rice, with several states taking advantage of the initiative.
It was learnt that yields in local rice have doubled from between two and three tonnes per hectare. And between 2016 and 2018, eight new rice mills have been installed in the country. Over one billion dollars, it was gathered, has been invested by the private sector in the production of rice, wheat, sugar and poultry, among others. Information minister, Lai Mohammed, said as many as 12 million jobs have been created through agriculture since Buhari mounted the saddle.
But many Nigerians want the Buhari administration to interact more directly with the country’s rural farmers, most of whom hardly benefit directly from government interventions.
“The federal government has started well, but a lot more needs to be done. For instance, when loans are given, how many rural farmers benefit? It is the rich that have access to the funds, and they will then employ the rural farmers. That is why the farmers have remained in penury,” James Ezenwa told this reporter.
Over the years, lack of adequate infrastructure has been a major blight on the country. The road system has been in shambles, while the rails are non-exixtent. Successive governments would start a project and then abandon it halfway. Hospitals lack the necessary equipment, and those who can afford the cost troop out to India, Europe and North America in search of good health facilities.
It was gathered that the federal government is currently building a cancer treatment centre at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital at a cost of $10 million. Modern diagnostic centres, each costing $5 million, are also being established at the Aminu Kano University Teaching Hospital and the Federal Medical Centre, Umuahia, Abia State.
The federal government says proceeds from a N100 billion Sukuk Bond taken last year are being used to fund the construction and rehabilitation of 25 major roads across the country, including the Kano-Maiduguri Road, rehabilitation of Enugu-Port Harcourt dual-carriageway, dualisation of Lokoja-Benin Road, and dualisation of Ibadan-Ilorin Road.
It was also gathered that the upgrade of the 3,500-kilometre network narrow-gauge railway network has commenced. The Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, said the project is targeted at reducing travel time from Lagos to Kano by rail. The Abuja Light Rail system has also been completed, it was gathered.
A number of water projects have also been completed by the Buhari government, it was gathered. Over 70 ecological fund projects were also reportedly awarded and completed by the administration across the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria
While the infrastructural development has renewed the hope of many people, others have not been too excited. Among these are the people living or doing business within the Apapa axis in Lagos. The Mile 2-Apapa Expressway, one of the most important roads in Nigeria, has totally collapsed. Each day, trucks and trailers heading for Apapa line up the roads for several kilometres, causing intractable traffic. Indeed, the driver of a small car journeying to Apapa from Mile 2 on the expressway is unlikely to reach his destination in one week!
“Until the roads leading to Nigeria’s major ports are repaired or reconstructed, I will not believe any government is working on infrastructure. I plead with the federal government to make the rehabilitation of the Apapa Road its priority. We had thought that the Minister of Power, Babatunde Fashola, would commence work on the Apapa Road once he resumed, but we have been proved wrong,” Taiwo Hassan, a journalist with a major media organisation in the Apapa axis, told the reporter.
The Buhari administration has also been hyping its anti-corruption drive as a major success, with several billions of naira in stolen funds recovered from former public office holders. Just last week, a former governor of Taraba State and member of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Rev. Jolly Nyame, bagged a 14-year jail term without an option of fine for mismanaging state funds.
There has been minimal improvement to the power situation in the country which has remained pathetic over the years. Recently, President Buhari and former President Olusegun Obasanjo were involved in a brief verbal warfare over the electricity situation. Buhari had wondered why regular electricity supply had been elusive in spite of the billions of dollars spent on revamping the sector during the Obasanjo years.
The Fashola noted that more than 2,000 megawatts of electricity had been added to the national grid. Indeed, it is believed that about 7, 000 megawatts are being generated across the country, although only 5, 000 are being distributed.
“But that is not enough. Nigeria should be generating and distributing tens of thousands of megawatts of electricity. Nigeria is being run on generators, and no nation survives walking that path. Businesses will continue to die, unemployment will continue to soar, and poverty will remain with the people until a lasting solution is found to the seemingly intractable power debacle,” Ezenwa said.